YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Administrating the existing agreement is not enough. The Yokosuka City Assembly wants the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement changed.

Citing a growing “distrust” of U.S. forces in the wake of recent crimes linked by police and prosecutors to servicemembers, the Yokosuka City Assembly has unanimously called for a SOFA revision. While it doesn’t pinpoint what should be changed, the assembly on March 2 said the revision should focus on the SOFA’s Article 17 — the chapter on criminal jurisdiction.

A position paper from the assembly references the Jan. 3 “murder without pity” of a Yokosuka woman, a “drunken” break-in at a local junior high school, an assault against an arcade worker and fraud over a $116 taxi fare — each case has a Yokosuka-based U.S. servicemember as a suspect.

“The Yokosuka citizens’ distrust of the U.S. military is now growing more and more,” the document reads. “We can no longer expect to resolve these problems by improved administration [of the status of forces agreement] any more.”

The document was sent to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Defense Agency director Fukushiro Nukaga. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said Tuesday the ministry had no comment on the document, as it had received it but not yet reviewed it.

In general, the ministry looks at each issue “individually” and responds by improving administration of the existing SOFA, the spokesman said.

“The U.S. position is that the SOFA does not need revision,” said Air Force Col. Anne Morris, U.S. Forces Japan public affairs director. “The SOFA is an agreement that was drafted with great care and deliberation and has been an effective instrument for many years.”

Signed in 1960, the SOFA sets out how U.S. forces operate within Japan. Article 17 states, in part, that “the military authorities of the United States shall have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over members of the U.S. armed forces … in the performance of official duties. In the case of any other offense, the authorities of Japan shall have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction.”

Revisions to the SOFA between the United States and Japan occurred in 1995 and 2004. One allowed the U.S. military to hand over suspects in “heinous” crimes to Japanese authorities before indictment, which happened in the case of the Jan. 3 beating death.

However, the assembly says more needs to be done “to protect residents’ lives and wealth” from these incidents and accidents.

This is not the first SOFA revision request from Yokosuka city officials: In 2004, the city made a similar request after a U.S. helicopter crash on Okinawa; it also requested revision in 2003, giving no specific reason.

USFJ condemns any criminal activity by its servicemembers, and the number of criminal incidents involving U.S. servicemembers has declined significantly in recent years, Morris said. Unequal media coverage of U.S. servicemembers’ crimes compared with those committed by Japanese contributes to “negative, and often unfair,” perceptions about the U.S. military community in Japan, Morris said.

“One criminal incident, however, is one too many,” she said.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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